Saying the position is “essentially a paper tiger,” the watchdog of the Illinois General Assembly abruptly announced her resignation as the Legislative Inspector General on Wednesday.
In her resignation letter, Carol Pope lambasted an ethics package state lawmakers approved earlier this spring that is awaiting action by Gov. JB Pritzker. That proposal, Pope wrote, would not give the office the authority it needs to effectively conduct its own investigations of alleged wrongdoing by lawmakers or their staff.
“This last legislative session demonstrated true ethics reform is not a priority,” she wrote. “The [Legislative Inspector General] has no real power to effect change or shine a light on ethics violations.”
Pope’s announcement comes as the statehouse has been embroiled in a wide-ranging federal corruption investigation that has led to the indictments of lobbyists, past and current lawmakers, and former House Speaker Michael Madigan’s chief of staff.
Pope, who was appointed to the position in 2019, had specifically requested that lawmakers grant her the power to issue subpoenas without requiring her to first get the approval from the Legislative Ethics Commission, a bipartisan panel of eight lawmakers. She also complained that if she reads about potential wrongdoing about a legislator in the news, she couldn’t open her own investigation unless she first received a formal complaint.
“I am unable to remain in a position where I cannot be as effective as I hoped to be,” Pope wrote.
Republicans seized upon news of Pope’s resignation and criticized Democrats, who hold a supermajority of seats in both the Illinois House and Senate, for not doing more to appease Pope’s requests and pass stricter ethics measures.
“It is unfortunate that the Majority legislative leaders did not make better use of her skills and her willingness to make some much-needed changes that would benefit all lawmakers,” said State Sen. Jil Tracy, R-Quincy, who is also chairwoman of the Legislative Ethics Commission. “Ethics reform in Illinois has long been an ongoing challenge.”
”Inspector Pope has proven to be a dedicated public servant representing the people of Illinois and their desire for a more ethical state government,” wrote Senate Minority Leader Dan McConchie, R-Hawthorn Woods. “Her job was difficult in a state that has a history of legislator misconduct. I wish her well and look forward to helping find a successor to carry this important mission forward.”
Pope offered to stay in the role until December 15 unless a replacement is selected sooner.
She replaced Julie Porter, who had also complained that some of her findings were not publicly released.
Tony Arnold covers state politics for WBEZ. Follow @tonyjarnold.